Persons with psychiatric disorders comprise the largest diagnostic group of disabled recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). A 32-month prospective cohort study of pathways to application for and receipt of SSI and SSDI was conducted among 169 people with major psychiatric disorders who were at an early stage of their illness and who had never applied for or received disability income. Of the three pathways that formed the conceptual basis for the investigation—labeling, impairment, and needs/resources—the latter two emerged as significantly associated with receipt. Individuals with more severe symptoms who were African American, and who were psychologically dependent in a primary relationship and financially dependent on their families, were more likely to become recipients. Enabling and disabling aspects of disability income receipt suggest that it may be replacing prolonged hospitalization as the most enduring social role of persons with severe, persistent psychiatric disorders.